Dogs are notorious for eating things they shouldn’t, and many of those things are not necessarily food. Dogs can chew and gulp down almost anything. So, if your dog ate a sock, you’re not alone — it’s a commonly swallowed item.
“Dogs seem to love cloth,” says Kelly Diehl, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, scientific communications advisor for the Morris Animal Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that funds animal health research. “I’ve pulled out a lot of socks and underwear. Amongst us gastroenterologists, people kick around the idea that sometimes dogs eat inappropriate materials because they have some kind of GI problem, whether that’s a food allergy or intolerance. I also think there’s a behavioral component to it, which we can’t really explain, but some dogs just seem to be sock eaters.”
Whether your dog ate a sock or some other item he has no business swallowing, several things might happen. If the dog is big and the item is small like a sock, the dog might simply vomit it back up — either right away or a day or two later. If that doesn’t happen, it’s possible that the dog might pass the sock and eventually poop it out. This could take several days, and you will want to take a close look every time your dog poops to check for the sock.
In some cases, if your dog ate a sock, the item might even become stuck in the stomach. “When the stomach empties, food will go first and indigestible objects go last,” Dr. Diehl explains. “Items can stay in a dog’s stomach and cause periodic problems. They got them down but they can’t throw them up, and they’re too big to go into the intestine, so they bounce around and cause some discomfort. These dogs usually become chronic vomiters.”
Not sure if your dog ate a sock, or swallowed something else? Because some types of items are difficult to see on an x-ray, and because dogs sometimes swallow things without their owners realizing it, your veterinarian might elect to take a look at the stomach with an endoscope. “Sometimes, I go down there with a scope because I think they have bowel disease or chronic inflammation, and I say, ‘Oh! Look, there’s a ball down here!’” Dr. Diehl says.
One outcome you really hope to avoid is an intestinal obstruction, where the sock lodges somewhere in the intestines, causing a blockage. An obstruction is serious and it requires surgery to remove the item. The tricky thing about intestinal obstructions is you might not realize your dog has one if you didn’t actually witness him swallowing a sock or something he shouldn’t.
If you’re lucky enough to know that your dog ate a sock or other item, one option is to bring him directly to the veterinarian to see if the item can be removed from the stomach with an endoscope. This is an especially good option if your dog is small and the item is large.
“One thing about socks in the stomach is they’re really easy to pull out with an endoscope,” Dr. Diehl explains. “It’s going to cost you some, but it’s less expensive than a surgery. Once they get in the intestine, it’s a problem because you can’t get a scope down that far and then they can swell from the gastric and intestinal juices and they can get stuck.” Your regular vet might be able to remove a sock with an endoscope, but if not, he or she can refer you to a specialist who does endoscopy.
According to Dr. Diehl, if a dog ate a sock, many dogs, especially large dogs, will either throw up socks or pass them in their stool. If your dog is not acting sick and isn’t throwing up, one option is to wait and see if it comes out on its own. If you don’t see the object come out in a few days, or if your dog starts acting sick, it’s time to see the vet.
If you’re not sure whether your dog ate a sock or another inappropriate item, but you notice telltale signs of an obstruction, go to the vet to have him checked out. “If your dog starts vomiting profusely, especially if he’s not eating or drinking, and he just keeps vomiting and vomiting, that’s often a classic sign of obstruction and that’s definitely a medical emergency,” Dr. Diehl explains. “Additionally, if your dog isn’t typically a barfer, but starts vomiting several times a week, it could be because something is stuck in the stomach.
If your dog swallows a sharp object, a battery or a very large object, see the vet immediately, as these types of objects may cause serious problems. And if your dog swallows underwear, take him in to try to remove it with an endoscope before it gets to the intestine, where the elastic band can cause problems.
“Really be careful about leaving socks and underwear out,” Dr. Diehl cautions. “It’s almost like a habit with some dogs. It’s much more common in young dogs because they’re often sampling stuff and eating things they shouldn’t. A lot of dogs will grow out of that habit, but some dogs persist.”
This piece was originally published in 2017.
Featured photo: gollykim/Getty Images